Unexpected spiritual transformation


What a difference a night made!

Parashat Vayishlach
Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

“Jacob said: No, please, if I have truly found favor in your sight, take the offering from my hand, for to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have already shown me favor.” (Genesis 33:10)

Jacob planned everything very carefully. By the final night before his meeting with Esau he had, indeed, orchestrated events down to the smallest detail. With not much night left, alone in the camp, Jacob peered into a future he could no longer control. His arrangements, designed to present himself as Esau’s humble servant, awaited only the rising of a new day.

Suddenly, Jacob felt the grip of another plucking him from his solitude and wrestling him, not for just a little while, but until the dawn. Tired from transporting wives and children across the Jabbok, he struggled to overcome the challenge. Overcome he did, but not without both physical injury and spiritual transformation.

Spiritual daylight arrived first. Jacob comprehended that he had met God face to face. He would now bring to his meeting with Esau a multidimensional strength embodied in his new name – Israel.

Physical daylight arrived next. Enervated and limping, meeting Esau face to face, Jacob bowed seven times as Esau’s humble servant.  With or without guile – you choose – Jacob told Esau that “seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.”

However, the Jacob bowing was no longer the Jacob of the previous day,  or weeks, months and years, but the renamed Jacob, the transformed Jacob of whom God would speak through the prophets as being “Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.”  It’s a cliché, but, what a difference a night made.

What about in our lives? We often plan, strategize and orchestrate our relationships with others. We await the big day, maybe a meeting fraught with difficult outcomes or the reconciliation that we hope goes well – or at least out of which we might come relatively unscathed.

Do we ever account for God? Do we ever give ourselves a chance to struggle with God about the situation? For more than just a brief time late one night?

Most of us don’t sit down one evening and decide: well, it’s time for me to be transformed! We would probably prefer not to be suddenly wrestled to the ground, injured and then, maybe, transformed.

Rather than wait for an unexpected meeting with God, might we not initiate one of our own and discover if there are spiritual changes that would make us more capable of reconciling? Before we meet someone from whom we expect some kind of judgment and action, might we not judge or assess ourselves in prayer, conversing with God in the steadfast words of our tradition and the words of our own hearts?

With or without guile – you choose – could you arrive at your moment of reconciliation and say that “seeing your face is like seeing the face of God”?  Only you can answer.

And, so, each week we bring ourselves to Torah and pray for the discernment to have our lives shaped by the truths Torah teaches. Let this week be among them.  Kein yehi ratzon – thus may it be so.  Shalom.

RABBI CANTOR ANNE HEATH (rabbi.taunton@verizon.net), spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Achim and the Jewish Community House, a 100-year old progressive, independent congregation in Taunton, Mass., is a member of the Greater Rhode Island and the Massachusetts boards of rabbis.